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Viewing Single Post From: Excavations of 1931
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Following Professor Birley's initial report, he excavated at Vindolanda again in the summer of 1931. (Though as his report makes clear, bad weather isn't a new phenomenon for diggers!) His report is produced in Archaeologia Aeliana, Series IV, Volume IX (1932), pp. 216-221. As with the excavation report from 1931, please note that these documents are still held under copyright, are owned by the Society of Antiquaries, used here by permission, and not intended to be reproduced or republished. Enjoy the read!


By Eric Birley.

[Read on 24th February, 1932.]

During the season under review, work at Chesterholm was confined to site B, the area in the vicus where a ditch containing first century pottery was found in 1930, and the north-west angle of the existing fort. Two men only were employed, and the work, never very extensive, was considerably hampered by bad weather. In the present paper I propose to give a brief account of the main discoveries, and to discuss in detail such of the objects found as deserve early publication.

At the north-west angle a structure was found in the position normally occupied by a tower ; but it can hardly have been a tower. For one thing, it had neither a doorway nor any trace of an occupation layer inside it; on the contrary, its interior had been systematically filled with rubble and clay, to a depth of more than 5 feet. Its side walls were not bonded in with the fort wall, but originally butted against it ; at present, the fort wall heels considerably outwards, so that at the highest surviving point its inner face is more than a foot away from the side walls of the angle-structure.

Of the purpose of this structure there can, I think, be little doubt. At this point the fort wall is 6 feet thick; the overall dimensions of the structure are 12 feet wide by 7 feet from front to back, so that, in effect, it thickens the fort wall to 13 feet for a distance of 12 feet, giving a platform large enough for a heavy catapult to be mounted. The absence of bonding appears to support this interpretation: for the mass of clay and rubble, with a masonry revetment, would provide just such resiliency as was essential to take the recoil of such a catapult; had the revetment been bonded in, or the structure composed of solid masonry, the recoil might easily have shattered it.

Though there was no bonding, it was clear that fort-wall and angle-structure were contemporary; the masonry was similar, the mortar identical, and the mortar itself gave an answer to one of the previous year's problems; it was heavily charged with shale, and suggested that the shale in which the masonry at the north and east gates was found to have been laid, represents the same mortar, the lime of which had disintegrated as a result of its exposure by Anthony Hedley a century ago.

The rampart mound to the west of the gun-platform was examined with some care, and yielded interesting results; but the publication of them is held over for a later report.

Immediately to the east of the gun-platform was a building, of which the west end only has been uncovered as yet, similar to that found on site C in 1930 : close up to the fort wall, and built at a high level over the rampart-backing. The roughness of the masonry of its walls was surpassed by that of its flagged floor; it yielded coins of Trajan, Severus Alexander, the younger Tetricus (a barbarous imitation), and Magnentius, together with some indeterminate scraps of pottery; but there can be little doubt that, like the building on site C, it belongs to the last phase in the occupation of the fort.

The early ditch found on this site in 1930 was reopened at the point where it was crossed by the stone water-channel that led to the bath-house from a spring to the west of the camp field. Plate xxviii, figs. 1 and 2, show how the heavy blocks of the channel had sunk over the east side of the ditch (to the west, the blocks have been robbed for a considerable distance) ; and plate xxvii, fig. 2 shows the relationship between the channel and the earlier occupation level to which reference is made below.

It was found that the ditch (ditch A) was of the common military type, in which the sides become vertical at the bottom, leaving a straight-sided channel 1 foot deep by 2 feet wide. Further early pottery occurred in the bottom of this channel, including two more pieces of the samian bowl, no. 1 in the report for 1930. A few feet north of the point where the water-channel crossed ditch A, a second ditch (B), without the straight-sided channel at the bottom, was found to join the first from the southwest. The new ditch was traced for more than fifty feet, but heavy rain, that finally brought all work on this site to an end, prevented further investigation of it; it produced equally early pottery.

Inside ditch A (that is to say, to the east of it) there was a layer of puddled clay, some 12 feet wide, and inside that again a roadway of hard rammed gravel, some 3 feet below the present surface. The clay was scored by a number of sleeper tracks, and in the inner edge of it were several post-holes (marked by pegs in plate xxvii, fig. 2) with the points of posts still in them ; but in the small area opened up there was insufficient order discernible for the purpose of sleepers or post-holes to be deduced. The clay presumably marks the position of the rampart, round the corner of which ditch A is curving; and it might be expected that a wooden angle tower would occur at this point, with which the sleeper tracks might be connected. In one of them was found a large piece of Dr. 37 in the
style of MERCATO.

The layer of gravel was covered by a deposit, varying from 1 to 2 inches in thickness, of dark peaty matter; Dr. Blackburn was good enough to examine this material, and informed me that it appeared to come from the bottom of a pond. This was something of a puzzle, as the surface of the ground at present slopes uniformly down towards the south-east, and it seemed as though such a deposit could hardly have formed here. Early in June, however, a sharp thunder-shower converted the excavation into a pond, that was still full of water in October, when it was necessary to fill it in again. Clearly, at this point there was a depression in the original surface, where water accumulated after the early site was abandoned.

Before the water-channel was laid, the ditches had been filled in, and the whole area levelled up with material, presumably from the rampart of the early fort, if fort it was; that will explain why only the tips of the posts remained in the post-holes; the greater part of them had been shaved away, together with the bulk of the rampart itself. For the date of this levelling, there is no evidence as yet; the only finds of any note from above it were a denarius of Vespasian, in good condition, and a number of pieces of a Rheinzabern bowl, Dr. 37, in the later style of the potter IANVS—presumably dating from the time of Antoninus Pius at earliest.
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Excavations of 1931 · Reports & Papers